Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Forty Years On

This past Tuesday was spent in Copenhagen and brought back bittersweet memories of a previous trip almost forty years ago. It was the end of December 1975 and I was still living and working in Toronto totally unaware that 1976 would be a year of major change. My friend George and I had decided that we would begin the New Year with a difference. That time of the year most of our colleagues were heading to Barbados for the holidays but for us 1976 would be celebrated in Copenhagen. Air Canada had started servicing Moscow via Copenhagen the year before and the flight was seldom busy. In fact when we boarded the DC8 in Toronto there were 18 passengers on board - 6 bound for Moscow and four of those passengers where the Station Manager for Moscow and his family, the other two were an elderly couple no doubt going back to show their families how well they had done.
Even in those days I was afraid of flying but 30 odd years later it still ranks as one of those "fun" flights. Robert, the young son of the Station Manager, donned the Purser's jacket - five sizes to big for him - and served us our after dinner drinks. We had a party at 36,000 feet but I do remember being a little concerned when the Captain joined us for coffee and a chat - who the hell was up front driving???

George and I stayed in the suburbs at a guest house he had stayed at twice before, run by an older couple who fussed over us like mother hens. It was the first time I had ever seen a water closet-shower combined but quickly learned the European habit of wetting down, turning off the water, soaping up and rinsing off. It was one of the coldest winters that Denmark had experienced in a long time and there was more snow than normal which meant many things ground to a halt. But we still managed to get down to Stroget and see the unique shops that in those days lined the street. I bought champagne (left) and white wine glasses at the Holme Gaard store - the pattern was called, and there is to be no laughter!, Princess and is now considered an "antique" by the nice people at Holme Gaard. I also bought four orange plastic mixing bowls at the Dansk store that have been used in every kitchen I've called mine in the past three decades plus.

New Year's Eve was spent at the Royal Theatre and a performance of that most Danish of ballets August Bourneville's Napoli prefaced by a smorgasbord and champagne with our hosts. After the performance we wen to ring in the New Year at a gay bar and then, public transport having long stopped, a long, long walk back to our lodgings in the cold to a worried hostess who was sure we had frozen on the embankment like the Little Match Girl.
Anderson's Little Mermaid sits - as she has done since 1913 when Edvard Erikson created her at the request of Carl Jacobson, the son of the founder of Carlsberg.

 Bundled up in layers of clothing we saw the Little Mermaid sitting on a bed of ice and went past St Alban's, the Anglican Church which stands close to her and the old Citadel. At the time I was a member of St Thomas Huron Street in Toronto and one of our priests, Fr Harold Hertzler, had been rector there in the 1960s. Being well out of tourist season the church was only open on Sundays and Feast Days and the day we were there was neither. Nor given the time of year was Tivoli the famous pleasure garden. I made a mental vow then that I would return one day and see both St Alban's and Tivoli without the layers of sweaters or snow.

George and I took several other trips - how we all travelled in those days - I recall we met one weekend in Paris, I flew in from London and he from Copenhagen (he loved those Danish blonds and they loved him). Another trip took a sextet of us to Las Vegas where he realized his dream and saw Ann Margaret on stage - a tip to the maitre d' guaranteed us a ring side table. He almost went into cardiac arrest when Ann Margaret blew him a kiss. We had planned several other trips for that year but things were to change for both of us.

In April of 1976 I moved to Ottawa and a life that was to take me places I had never imagined in my wildest imagination. Later that same year George left Air Canada and launched a career as a successful graphic artist in Vancouver. We didn't keep in touch that much but every so often I would get an update from my friend Gary. In 1980 Gary told me that George had moved back to Toronto to be cared for by his family. He was amongst the first wave of my friends to be taken by AIDS at a time when so little was known about what was happening. It was a time of fear and intolerance - his family though caring for him refused to allow any of his friends to visit or at the end attend his funeral. No one was allowed to say goodbye.

St Alban's Anglican Church at twilight last Tuesday - nestled between the harbour and the city it is a place I promised I would visit almost 40 years ago.  Last week I was able to fulfill that promise.
Last week our ship docked almost beside St Alban's and I was able to go into the church - I'll write a bit more about that visit in a later post. It was quiet, bright, sunlit and warm - so unlike that day in January when we shivered passed it so many years ago. I lit a candle in the lovely little side chapel and said a few words to remember that visit and more especially for my travel buddy George.

19 June - 1815: Cornelius Krieghoff, the Canadian painter is born.

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1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

How sad that you were not able to say goodbye to George. I'm glad that you're able to commemorate him again in Copenhagen, city of shared memories.